Zedd turned to his other teammates. “You guys ready? This is it. Next time I see you will be planetside. I just want to tell you that this season has been amazing, probably the best of my career. As you all know, my contract expires after this race, and I’m retiring as operator. I’m offering all of you renewed contracts for our new MRL team in Rhod.”
Ahead of them, a green light flashed on.
“That’s it. I’ll meet you guys in the pit.” He planted his left foot on the pedal and swung his other leg over the rear of the bike. He sat straddling the waist of Vela and leaned forward to grasp the handlebars. The handles were firm but gave way under his grip. As the other riders around him saddled into their machines Zedd pressed the button to put Vela in standby mode. Between his gripped hands, an array of lights came to life. Zark and he had designed it together. The speedometer, gear display, circuit map, rear check, and LOx pressure meter all floated in neon holograms between his forearms. He took a deep breath.
A thin line led a crooked, angled path towards the track entrance. It glowed pale green on the ground in front of him. He gently turned the throttle in his right hand and Vela glided forward. He followed the guide as it angled slightly left towards the track entrance. Other lines from other team stations began to converge near his own. All paths reached a shallow incline that rose to an opening in a low barrier. This shallow wall separated a level area of the track from the infield. Another man in a yellow utility suit, wearing sunglasses and a black billed hat, flagged Zedd to the left. Zedd pressed gently on the right handlebar and Vela’s front fork slightly rotated her front tire. Another flagger, straight ahead, motioned Zedd to come forward and settle his machine directly behind a smaller, grey and purple magnacycle.
Zedd released the throttle and held in his clutch. Vela rolled forward until Zedd could see the white placement line. He pressed his right foot down on the polarizer to slow. Vela came to a smooth stop. She was in pristine, working order. Everything was perfectly calibrated.
Behind him the riders lined up in a zipper pattern along the straightaway. As final placements were made, Zedd scanned the stands and saw families with their children. There were groups of teens and older gentlemen with their friends enjoying the annual tradition. A young mother with a cone of cotton candy picked off pieces for her child. The child eagerly grasped the tufts with sticky blue hands. Zedd took a deep breath, savoring the moment.
Finally, all the cycles had been lined into their places. Zedd looked back at the racers behind him. He saw Erich about five places behind, sliding his helmet onto his head before climbing onto his silver and cyan magna. Erich caught Zedd’s stare and flashed him a backhand gesture, his forefinger and pinky extended. Zedd sent him the same one.
A voice boomed through a speaker overhead, broadcasting to the entire stadium.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Twentieth Annual Magna 200!” Cheers rung out across the stadium. “We are so happy to have such an amazing turnout today. I’d say this is our biggest crowd ever! Without further delay, it looks like our riders are ready. We will begin the countdown in just a few minutes!”
An archway spanned over the starting line of the track. On its face was a long strip of red light. The front flagger walked straight down the center of the two rows of magnas prompting each rider to give him a thumbs-up if they were all set and ready to go. He passed Zedd and they exchanged extended thumbs. Zedd took another deep breath after he passed. Once at the end of all two dozen riders, the man extended his arm upwards in a “good to go” gesture to another man standing at a podium next to the archway. The man in front acknowledged his signal.
The announcer returned, “Ok it looks like they’ve given the go-ahead, so let’s get started!” The red light overhead went off. As soon as it went off, the screen came back, displaying a ‘5’ on a red background. ‘4...3...2...1’ The screen now turned a rich green, with a gigantic ‘GO’.
Zedd turned his throttle back and veered right to avoid the congestion of the inner-left portion of the track. He plotted a course along the outside, attempting to find a clear route around the seven riders ahead of him. Planning to let them fight out the inside of the turns, he waited for the inside of the track to disperse before making his way in. After the first turn, he was in fifth.
Twenty laps in, Zedd could feel the traction of the tires lessening. The last three turns of the Sidewinder were a pair of opposite, zigzagged 90° turns, followed by a short straightway, ending in another 90° high-bank turn left towards the finish line. He cut the inside path of both zigzagged turns with minimal slipping, but the last turn caused him to slide wide, high up on the bank. He docked in the pit for a change of tires immediately after. Within six seconds, Zedd was back on the track with three brand new tires and his LOx tank filled. He used a small portion of his refilled oxygen upon exiting the pit area to reclaim lost space.